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The NEDRA News blog features topical industry-specific articles submitted by our membership; book, publication, film, and resource reviews; op-ed pieces about emerging fundraising topics and issues; and information and news specifically related to NEDRA as an organization.  We hope these selections will be of interest to you - and we encourage you to share your thoughts and comments here!

NEDRA News was previously a quarterly journal of prospect research published by the New England Development Research Association from the organization's inception in 1987 until the end of 2011. Since 2012, we have continued to offer to you, our members, the same NEDRA News content you have come to rely on - but in a blog format tailored to meet the changing needs of our members, and featuring new content on a monthly (rather than quarterly) basis.

  • Fri, September 29, 2017 3:54 PM | Laura Parshall

    If you're currently looking to hire new staff, or to transition to a new job, you're in luck this month! In this excellent article, Suzy Campos, NEDRA board member and Director of Advancement Research at Amherst College,  presents a look at hiring and interviewing practices in our industry.

    Best Practices for Interviewing and Hiring in Prospect Development.

    We all want to be part of a strong team. Prospect development is a great career option, but the niche nature of what we do can sometimes make recruiting and hiring a challenge. For this article, NEDRA surveyed team leaders/directors from a variety of institutions about their experiences with searches and what has worked well.


    When evaluating candidates, whether for positions in research, prospect management, or fundraising data science, hiring managers are looking for good communicators who exhibit curiosity, problem-solving skills, and the ability to think outside the box. These characteristics are considered by survey respondents to be more essential than direct experience. One respondent said, "I can teach someone how to use research tools and about fundraising processes, but [the successful candidate] has to be willing to be creative and think of other ways to find pertinent information when tools or resources have limitations." Ability to handle confidential information with discretion is also a requirement. A passion or interest in the organization's mission is considered a plus. One director looks for comfort with math and basic algebra in prospect research candidates. How else to calculate accurate capacity ratings?

    Prospect development hiring managers advise looking beyond direct experience for skills that are transferable. Leaders have welcomed historians, genealogists, medical researchers, and journalists to their groups with good results. "I usually look for a generalist. Someone who knows about a lot of things," said a director at an academic institution.

    Leaders hiring for analytics/data science positions look for proficiency in at least one software language such as SAS, Python, R, or SPSS. A demonstrated interest in learning additional languages is a plus.

    Good writing skills are still considered a must. In addition to writing basics such as grammar and spelling, "brevity," "clarity," and "conciseness" were frequently cited. "Very long cover letters can be a red flag."

    Along those lines, when NEDRA asked hiring managers what would happen with "an otherwise promising applicant if there was a typo in the resume/cover letter? Two typos??" the responses were varied. Many managers said they wouldn't reject the candidate outright if all else was strong, but that it would be a factor if other concerning signs emerge. "I realize sometimes candidates are having to quickly update a resume at night, after work, and I can give a tiny bit of leeway on a small typo." However, for some, it is a dealbreaker. "One typo would be tough, two completely unbearable," said one respondent. Another noted, "It shows a lack of the attention to detail that is so important in our work." Others say it depends on the nature of the error, "Something glaring like a misspelling, I would probably not move [the candidate] forward; an extra space or missing comma, I would probably let go." A respondent who has been involved with data science-related searches is willing to forgive a few errors, pointing out that English may not be the primary language of the applicant.

    To better assess writing skills, most institutions require a sample of written work for prospect research positions. Many also administer an exercise−either on site or as a take-home−in which the applicant is provided with some standard source material to synthesize into a summary. One institution asks the applicant to give a ten minute presentation on something technical. Other assessments include proofreading tests and exercises to demonstrate Excel skills. None of the responding institutions said they ask candidates to do original research.

    It's natural when conducting a search to look for qualities like fit and compatibility. However, it is important to keep in mind that research increasingly shows that diversity among employees brings strength to the organization. (See "Why Diverse Teams are Smarter," Harvard Business Review, November 2016)

    Dina Levi, Director of Inclusive Leadership at Amherst College, advises that when hiring, "fit" be well defined so it does not translate, consciously or unconsciously, into "looks like us and thinks like us." Dina notes that while it behooves interviewers to check their own biases, it is even more beneficial to create structures in the hiring process that mitigate bias. Some strategies Dina suggests include:

    • A clear, written definition of "fit" is less subject to bias than looking for a feeling of personal compatibility. One possible definition of fit could be "exhibits the values of the hiring organization (e.g., communication, respect, service to others)."
    • Skills assessments that are standard for all candidates, such as the exercises described above, are more objective than relying solely on a conversation-based interview. 
    • Make inclusion part of the body of the job description, not just a tagline in the employer boilerplate. Some examples: "Successful candidates should possess specific competencies and demonstrated experience working with diverse colleagues;" or "Takes appropriate actions to participate in the organization's efforts to create a respectful, inclusive, and welcoming work environment."
    • Resist assumptions about a diverse candidate's ability to conform or to be compatible with the work environment. For example, avoid the assumption that a candidate would not feel comfortable being the only member of their gender on a team, or that a minority candidate would not want to relocate to a rural college town.

    Consider standardizing questions so that all interviewees are responding to the same inquiries and can be compared objectively. This keeps the discussion focused on the job and results in fewer tangents about personal similarities with the search committee, such as sharing the same hometown or alma mater.

    Respondents to NEDRA's hiring survey shared some favorite interview questions including:

    • Describe a difficult situation with a fundraiser or client and how you handled that.
    • Tell us about a time that you had to sacrifice quality for quantity [or vice versa].
    • How would you handle getting an inappropriate or unreasonable research request?
    • What makes for a really fun day at work?
    • How would you handle an analysis project where key data are missing?
    • Tell us about a time you took a risk that didn't work out.
    • What is your proudest achievement?
    • What's the difference between an "attending" and an "admitting?" [healthcare setting]
    • If you were me [the hiring manager], how would you describe the essence of the position and the characteristics of a successful candidate?
    • What have we not asked you about yet that you want us to know?
    • What song would you consider your anthem and why?

    Several hiring managers mentioned that they consider it a warning sign when the candidate doesn't have any questions of their own. "When I ask 'do you have any questions for us?' I'm not just being polite, I'm gauging how prepared and how interested the candidate is."

    Lastly, no thank you note, no job offer. Not sending a thank you "indicates a lack of interest in the position." Some hiring managers prefer email, some prefer a handwritten note, but all agree that any type of note is better than none. "Savvy candidates will send one note by email for speed, and one by post for another "touch" and a reminder that they get the art of the thank you." "We think of it as another opportunity to assess writing skills." One director said, "I always make sure the candidate has the business cards of everyone on the interview team, so that the applicant has all the contact information needed to send thank yous."

    Some final words of wisdom? "Be patient. Be persistent. Follow your instincts." Good advice for both hirers and job seekers!

    To Bruce Berg, Brooke Burke, James Cheng, Amber Countis, Diane Garvey, Bill Gotfredson, Vicki Law, Dina Levi, Barbara Moore, and several others remaining anonymous, many thanks for their contributions to this article. 

    Where do hiring managers post their prospect development positions?

    Institution's own website
    Local arts and culture newspaper
    PRSPCT-L mailing list
  • Fri, September 29, 2017 3:42 PM | Laura Parshall

    We would like to thank the following NEDRA members, who have agreed to serve as volunteers with the Marketing Committee!

    Kristen Cocche at Emmanuel College

    Erin Gianni at Suffolk University

    Samantha Goodrow at Bentley University

    Claire Moitra at Rhode Island School of Design

    Colleen O'Donnell at the Museum of Fine Arts

    Amy Tesoro at St. Mark's School

  • Fri, September 29, 2017 3:39 PM | Laura Parshall

    In this pair of articles from the Spring 2001 NEDRA News, Scott Tomlinson and Carol Byrne discuss transitioning from a career in prospect development to frontline fundraising, and from frontline fundraising to prospect development. What's the change like? What skills transfer well? Read on to find out!

    From Research to the Front Lines (and vice versa).pdf

  • Mon, August 28, 2017 1:44 PM | Laura Parshall

    The NEDRA Board had its monthly operations call on Wednesday, August 2. We had a great discussion of the Apra Prospect Development conference, and also talked about upcoming programs. Read on for Lisa Foster's conference recap and more information!

  • Mon, August 28, 2017 1:26 PM | Laura Parshall

    In case anyone missed it last month, the 2017 NEDRA Member Survey is complete! Thank you to everyone who participated. GG&A, who volunteered to conduct the survey for NEDRA, have put together an executive summary of the results, available to NEDRA members at the 2017 NEDRA Member Survey link. Please be sure to keep your eye out for articles with more in-depth analysis of survey results in upcoming issues of NEDRA News. We look forward to using the survey results to develop better and more effective programming and to understand more about our members’ backgrounds and plans with the ultimate goal to better serve the NEDRA Community!

  • Mon, August 28, 2017 1:11 PM | Laura Parshall

    NEDRA Board member Lisa Foster attended Apra's Prospect Development conference in July. In this month's article, she shares her experiences there for those of us who weren't able to make it.

    Apra Prospect Development 2017 Recap

    by Lisa Foster

    Apra’s Prospect Development Conference, held July 26-29 in Anaheim, drew just under 1,000 registrants. 827 were full conference attendees and the rest were made up of exhibitors, speakers, or symposia attendees. The conference featured 87 sessions in total, including 10 workshops, 75 breakouts and 2 general sessions. Attendees came from 9 different countries, including Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the US. Of those who answered the post conference survey, 72% were chapter members and the remaining 35% were first time attendees. The top-rated session was the keynote speaker and the top-rated networking events were Apra Talks and the 30th Anniversary Celebration. The top education sessions were the ones that had a focus on real-life applications, as well as sessions focused on relationship building skills. 

    For me, the conference began with the Apra Chapter Leaders’ meeting. Dina Zelleke (Former NEDRA Board Member and Ann Castle Award recipient) is the incoming Chair of the Chapter Leader’s Committee. NEDRA President Amy Begg and I attended the meeting on NEDRA’s behalf. This was my fourth Apra Chapter Leaders’ meeting, and each one has been totally different. For this meeting, Apra solicited feedback in advance about challenges faced by the chapters. We met as a large group and brainstormed specific challenges that fell into the large categories Apra provided, such as Member and Volunteer Recruitment, Value Proposition and Member Retention, and Serving Diverse Geographies of Membership, for example. Next, we broke into groups and rotated around the room to discuss ideas for overcoming each of these challenges. There was a particular challenge assigned to each table.  This was a terrific way to gather new ideas and best practices from other chapters. Most chapters were careful to split themselves up so that each chapter had only one representative at a table, which really helped ensure diverse approaches. Apra is referring to this meeting as a “Solutions Showcase,” and that name is truly apt. Amy and I have shared our experience with the rest of the NEDRA Board and we hope we can use some of the ideas we brought back to better serve our NEDRA members.

    We also heard about some changes to the Apra website, especially in the area of the Body of Knowledge. The Body of Knowledge now features self-assessments. This allows you to test yourself in various areas and see if you have knowledge gaps. The meeting ended with each chapter tasked with creating a poster for their chapter to remain on display throughout the conference. Amy and I were very grateful for the wonderful photos taken by our volunteer conference photographers. Here is a photo of the poster we created, and a photo of the chapter leaders.


    An interesting note is that one of the chapter leaders is named Nedra! She pronounces it with a long "e." It was fun to meet her.

    I did take advantage of the Pre-Conference Workshops, and attended two terrific sessions before the official start of the conference. One of my favorite takeaways from this year’s conference actually came in my first pre-conference session. The presenter mentioned trying to make a shift to getting through a list of names to review and rate more quickly and that her team had found the use of physical hourglasses to be helpful. I found some pretty hourglasses online and got them for my team. Certainly, we all have access to digital timers but somehow an hourglass is more fun and is a nice visual reminder that time is running out!

    Apra took an interesting approach to the scheduling this year, and repeated some of the session offerings. For me, personally, this was helpful as there were times when I was interested in two sessions being offered at the same time and it enabled me to catch one of them at another time in the schedule. In addition to being Apra’s 30th Anniversary, it is also the 30th Anniversary of the movie “The Princess Bride,” and many sessions had fun incorporating visuals and quotes from the movie into their presentations. One of the vendors had made up buttons with various “Princess Bride” quotes and it was interesting to see what quotes people chose to wear!  Speaking of vendors, there were a few new vendors this year, and we did speak with them to see if they would be interested in coming to the NEDRA conference this Spring so that our members can stay up to date with all the latest products.


    The keynote speaker was fabulous. If you hadn’t read about him, and especially if you’ve ever wondered what happens to all the partially used bars of soap at hotels, I encourage you to check out the Apra website and read about Derreck Kayongo. Not only is his mission laudable, but his passion and enthusiasm were absolutely contagious. He literally had the whole room on their feet, dancing and singing at the end of his talk.


    The Apra 30th Celebration featured 80’s music, along with a fun photo booth with 80’s props.


    The Apra Talks were very interesting and featured a look at Apra Past, Present and Future. For discussion of the future, Tarak Shah talked about such things as Discovery Engines and Machine Comprehending. 

    Also of special note, Helen Brown, former NEDRA Board Member and past Ann Castle Award Winner, was the recipient of the 2017 Apra Distinguished Service Award.

    NEDRA had a very nice networking reception with a terrific turnout. We even had some folks drop by who were former NEDRA members who had moved out of New England for a job change and some folks who were just interested to meet NEDRA members because they follow NEDRA on social media. The NEDRA brand is strong!


    We all attend conferences with the hope of gaining knowledge in different areas. I was especially interested in sessions that offered examples of reports and data visualization, and I found that there were plenty of those. I came back to my office with great examples of reports for prospect management and metrics.


    Next year’s conference will be held in Pittsburgh, PA August 8-11, 2018.

  • Mon, August 28, 2017 1:03 PM | Laura Parshall

    It's been a quiet month, but NEDRA programming will be heating up soon! On August 30, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine will be hosting a Research Basics Bootcamp, perfectly timed to be a "back to school" event for new researchers. On September 12, join this year's Apra Distinguished Service Award recipient Helen Brown for a session on United Kingdom research. Learn about the special challenges of researching in this country, and find out about the best resources and techniques to get the information you need.

    Need some networking time? On September 15, there will be a VINO (Very Informal Networking Event) at BAR in Hartford, CT. This self-sponsored event will be a great opportunity to meet your fellow NEDRA members.

    On October 27, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute will host a Think Tank on healthcare. Bring your problems, questions, and ideas to share with others in this field!

    You can read more about these programs and register for them on the Upcoming Programs page.

  • Mon, August 28, 2017 12:59 PM | Laura Parshall

    What exactly does it mean when a prospect holds a patent? In this article from the Spring 1996 NEDRA News, Valerie Anastasio gives a great explanation of patents, including inventors, assignees, and everything else you need to know to navigate this subject.

    Patented Prospects.pdf

  • Mon, July 31, 2017 2:52 PM | Laura Parshall

    The NEDRA board had its monthly operations call on July 12. Among the subjects discussed were upcoming programming, plans for the Apra Prospect Development conference, volunteers, and more. Read on for more information!

  • Mon, July 31, 2017 2:40 PM | Laura Parshall

    The NEDRA Board would like to extend warm congratulations to Melissa Bank Stepno, who has been elected to the Apra board of directors! Melissa, as many of you know, served on the NEDRA board previously, and was a great asset to the board while she was with us. She has also served on the board of AFP's Northern New England chapter. We know she brings serious skills, drive, and a great team spirit to Apra. Please join us in wishing her all the best in this role! It's always exciting when someone from NEDRA goes on to shine with our parent organization.


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